Artist impression of thalassotitan. Credit: Andrey Atuchin
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A giant mosasaur with teeth like an orca ruled the oceans around Morocco by the end of the year
Cretaceous Agefinds a new study.
The extinct predator, called
thalassotitan atrox, grew to about 30 to 33 feet (9 to 10 meters) in length and probably fed on other marine reptiles it encountered, including colleagues mosasaurs. The name thalassotitan comes from the Greek words “thalassa” and “titan”, meaning “sea-like”, and the species name atrox translates to “cruel” or “ruthless,” according to the study.
Researchers discovered fossilized skulls, jaws and other remains they used to identify
T. atrox near Casablanca in western Morocco, an area that was submerged during the Cretaceous Period.
The researchers found that the teeth of
T. atrox were often chipped, broken, or worn, suggesting the species damaged them as they attacked violently and bit through the bones of prey.
Mosasaurs went extinct at the same time as the dinosaurs after a giant asteroid hit
Soil 66 million years ago. The new finds add to a fossil record in Morocco that shows the ocean there teemed with rich and diverse life before the asteroid struck.
“They tell us how life was rich and varied just before the end of the ‘dinosaur age,’ where animals had to specialize to gain a place in their ecosystems,” study co-author Nour-Eddine Jalil, a collection manager at the Paleontology Research Center at the Museum of Natural History in Paris, said in a
pronunciation. “ thalassotitan completes the picture by taking on the role of megapredator at the top of the food chain.”
Related: A five-foot sea monster ruled the ancient ocean that once covered Kansas
Mosasaurs were a diverse group of marine reptiles distantly related to modern lizards and snakes. They ruled the world’s oceans for millions of years when…
dinosaurs dominated on the land. A 2014 study published in the journal Proceedings of the Zoological Institute RAS estimated that a mosasaur specimen of a different species in Russia called Mosasaur Hoffmanni was about 56 feet (17 meters) long.
The new species was therefore not the largest mosasaur, but it was still an apex predator and fulfilled a similar role in its ecosystem to
orcas ( Orcinus orca) and great white sharks ( Carcharodon carcharias) today, according to the statement.
Most mosasaurs had long jaws and slender teeth, but
T. atrox evolved a shorter, wider snout that increased its bite force and short, conical killer whale-like teeth that could tolerate the increased forces when biting large prey, the study said.
The researchers found fossilized bones of at least three other mosasaurs in the same rock beds as
T. atrox that showed signs of acid damage, suggesting that these mosasaurs were digested in the stomach of T. atrox and spat out again.
The study was published online Aug. 24 in the journal
Originally published on Live Science.